Tony Naqvi
Experience Design

Sharing knowledge as a powerful and motivating force for change


Brand & Product Design

Lightbulb moment

This job came about when Adhlal, a Riyadh-based social enterprise involved in community relations and cross-industry collaboration in the Saudi design sector, were referred to me by another client (always a nice thing).

To be perfectly honest the owner of Adhlal, Princess Nourah Al Faisal, wasn't actually convinced at the time that my help was even needed. It took the persistent persuading of another senior member of the Adhlal team to finally convince her to bring me on-board.

It was explained to me that Adhlal's problem was that people really didn't get who they are or what they do. They were often mistaken for a small design agency or research company, and any semblance of clarity only really emerged after a lengthy and somewhat convoluted explanation was offered.

Nourah was actually quite happy with Adhlal's visual identity

Most of the staff were convinced the root of the problem was a lack of brand strategy, coupled with a rather bizarre and rudimentary visual identity that did little to convey the Adhlal story.

The problem was exacerbated by the fact that Nourah was actually quite happy with Adhlal's visual identity (it had been designed by a close friend of hers - enough said), and really didn't see the need to change it. However, after we had a meeting during which I asked important and probing questions they found difficult to answer ("what is the core message you're trying to convey?"), Nourah finally agreed to a brand audit.

I spent about almost two weeks conducting the audit before presenting my findings to Nourah and her team.


After a lengthy meeting in which I tore down the Adhlal brand with references to a lack of brand strategy, poor visual identity, and industry benchmarks and competitor comparisons, the light finally flicked on for Nourah: she was on board and we'd proceed with a full rebrand - strategy, positioning, and visual identity.

Back to basics

Now that we'd agreed next steps, I needed to plot a way forward that would gentle guide Adhlal through the process without me coming across as the clever know-it-all, and Nourah and her team as the green novices. Clients hate a sermoniser.

It wasn't a simply a case of they didn't know anything about brand development - there's so much confusion and so many conflicting ideas about what a brand actually is that no two people can give you the same answer to what is essentially a really easy question - it's just that I wanted them to understand my interpretation. Because my interpretation is the correct one.

There's so much confusion and so many conflicting ideas about what a brand actually is

Anyway, I put together a project plan that largely consisted of meetings and workshops that would allow us to collaboratively develop the brand strategy and positioning (I never involve a client in the visual identity development. Ever), whilst at the same time allowing me to instruct them in the art of branding in a modular and accessible fashion.

And it worked. Really well as a matter of fact. We were able to rattle through and settle on the strategy in just a couple of weeks. And what we came up with was brilliant!

The heart of the new brand strategy was the proposition that (sharing) knowledge is a powerful and galvanising force that enlightens and brings people together, and can help unite and grow the Saudi design industry.

Cultural relevance

For the visual identity, it was important to Nourah that it be rooted in Saudi culture and heritage.

To achieve this, and to retain the essence of it as a conduit for knowledge sharing, I turned to Arabic manuscripts from the early 7th century, written in Kufic script, for inspiration.

Kufic was the preferred script for writing copies of the Qur'an, as it's easy to read (tying in nicely with the idea of knowledge being accessible), and is also a decorative script, with artists and calligraphers adapting it for use in patterns for everything from architecture to pottery, textiles, and ornaments.

I admit I did take a few liberties and bent the calligraphic rules...

Despite the fact I know next to zero Arabic, i decided that Kufic was the way to go as the primary typeface for the brand. It anchored the identity firmly in Saudi cultural heritage - I just needed to find a way give it modern relevance.

A swift crash course in Arabic calligraphy, working with Arabic calligrapher and typographer Qasim Haider, gave me enough of an insight to begin exploring ideas for a logo - finally settling on a bilingual Arabic/English wordmark (I admit I did take a few liberties and bent the calligraphic rules in rendering the Kufic logo - soz) that incorporates the concept of 'shade' (Adhlal translated into English).

The result is a surprisingly robust, elegant, authoritative and timeless (so i'm told) emblem that received quite the accolades from Nourah and the rest of the Adhlal team.

Old meets new

With the logo completed, I turned my attention to the design system.

Nourah had already expressed a preference for a monochrome visual identity, but I thought it would be good to add two additional colours to the palette, for that extra bit of vibrancy and to help draw attention where needed.

Continuing the geometric calligraphy theme, I also opted for QT Square Kufic (again from Qasim Haider) as the primary typeface - it's bold, easy to read, and creates an excellent visual contrast.

For imagery, I wanted to further root the identity design in Saudi culture. I kept thinking how to visualise knowledge and sharing, and found inspiration in the classic Saudi national emblem.

I went through a process of simplification and refinement, and ended up with something that looked remarkably like a brain, or neural network. The overlapping lines generated a series of geometric shapes that I used to create a graphical device that acts as a sort of 'container' for imagery - the idea being that Adhlal is a repository for knowledge. Clever huh?

Design system

I should point out that my 'process' is nowhere as linear as it may have come across here. I don't really leave the design system until the end - i'm thinking about it all the time as I design different assets - I'm more 'holistic'. I'm always testing how things look at scale, across different devices and mediums, in changing lighting conditions, with other assets, etc.

And most importantly, how to create parity between English and Arabic compositions so that there is a uniformity and familiarity to the design system.

Since Arabic is the primary language for the brand and the intended audience, that was my starting point - I began with a right-aligned structure and composition and worked forward from there.

I realise design 'experts' are probably tearing their hair out at this...

As it turned out, as I was swapping between the English and Arabic assets, keeping everything right-aligned didn't work out too badly.

I realise UX'ers and other design 'experts' are probably tearing their hair out at this. Tough, for Adhlal, the brand, and their customers it worked, and as far as I'm concerned that's all that matters.

I created a tidy layout system with contrasting typographic balance, a neat vertical rhythm, that when all the assets come together, creates a striking and unique design that is unlike anything else in the Kingdom. It really sets Adhlal apart. And it's gorgeous.

Signing off

I really wanted to personalise the visual identity in some way - help create a closer bond with Adhlal's target audiences - so I came up with this idea of a 'signature'.

The basic premise is that in all communications, Adhlal would essentially 'sign it' with a signature specific to the audience they're speaking to. So for example, if there's a poster for a workshop for fashion designers, there's a signature 'Adhlal + Fashion Design', for Architects, 'Adhlal + Architecture', etc, you get the drift.

If the intended audience is much broader, then a standard signature 'Adhlal + Industry' is used.

It's just a neat way to add a human touch to the brand.

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